Reforming Fuel; Changing Ways

The race for alternative aviation fuel production enters the backstretch, the finish line finally within sight.

According to ATA’s Young, ASTM is looking to approve, by the end of this year, a revision to the jet fuel specification which will allow up to a 50 percent blend of synthetic fuel and existing fossil fuel.
Young says ATA is trying to take the same approach for a revision which will approve up to a 50 percent bio-fuel blend by 2010.

George Bye, CEO of Bye Energy Inc. based in Colorado, has committed his company to addressing what he describes as “a very urgent need for renewable fuels which are able to be produced domestically.”
Bye Energy has been busy researching various plant-based feed stocks for use in alternative fuel production.

When looking at feed stocks, Bye says it’s important that the candidate feedstock does not have any direct human impact, such as the depletion of a human food source like corn or soy.

Bye considers algae a promising feedstock because it contains a high energy density and grows prolifically (nearly doubles in mass every 24 hours). While Bye admits that algae are a great candidate as a potential feed stock, he stresses the fact that his company is indifferent to any particular technology.

“We want to be a conduit of these various technologies to provide clean renewable solutions for aviation fuel,” says Bye. “We do not prefer one over another at this point, but we want to evaluate the technologies that are out there. We don’t want this to be a ten-, or 20- year solution; we want to get into a phase of analysis large enough that we can evaluate the technology for commercialization in the near term.”

Bye Energy has a two-phase process for helping companies bring a viable alternative aviation fuel to market. The first phase is an analysis of the various alternative fuel technologies including three test sites. In this phase, Bye invites various companies and research universities into an agreement with his company at a scale large enough so that his company can analyze the capabilities of each technology for commercialization.

The second phase involves choosing candidates based on the test analysis of phase one; candidates chosen will then work for Bye under contract to provide fuel to the aviation industry.

“We think the technology has matured enough from several locations…, the field of players is big enough that we will likely find those technologies that are ready for commercialization within the next two to three years,” says Bye.

As far as price goes, Bye says the fuel must be competitive with fossil fuel. Companies come to Bye Energy certain their technologies can produce an alternative aviation fuel at a competitive price; that’s when Bye says to them: “Ok, now show me.”

“The real challenge is scaling the technology up and demonstrating out of the lab, getting out of the research circle, and getting into the field,” says Bye. “That’s where we get into the real challenges of the technology- engineering, logistics, and infrastructure that you have to face when making fuel for airplanes.”

The Boeing Company, also a contributing player in CAAFI, is currently promoting the development of sustainable biofuels for commercial aviation use. Boeing’s managing director of environmental strategy, Billy Glover, gave a presentation on sustainable biofuels at ACI’s annual event in Boston last month.

The basis of Boeing’s biofuel initiative is fundamental: creating viable fuels from renewable resources. Some resources the company has been researching include feedstock such as algae, jatropha, halophytes, and non-food cellulose. The candidates must prove that a viable supply model can be created and that they can be blended with the petroleum-based fuel used today as a “drop in” application.

Alternatives to petroleum-based fuel have already been tested in Boeing commercial jets by way of flight demonstrations. A flight test took place earlier this year with Virgin Atlantic and GE, the first ever commercial flight using the bio-fuel blend. Glover also noted that an Air New Zealand and Rolls Royce test flight will take place later this year followed by Continental Airlines and CFM.

“It turns out, we are able to produce fuel that actually performs as good as or better than the petroleum-based fuel we use today,” says Glover.

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